Friday, 15 August 2014

Last Week: 5. Rooted in Reality

Human beings come to know through three processes: experiencing, understanding and judging.

Pure experience is the like the moment between suddenly tasting salt on your lips and registering "salt." The question for understanding is "What is it?"

The mind puts forward various hypothesis, e.g. "Blood."

The question for judging is "Is it so?"

The mind then reflects and perhaps rejects the first answer, e.g. "No, it is salt water. The Mediterranean, in which I am swimming, is salty."

Judgment often leads to a third question for reflection, "Knowing that, what must I do?", e.g. "Stop panicking, Lake Ontario person."

These are the basics of the cognitional theory of Father Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984), a Canadian philosopher-theologian whose work I studied for five years. I have found it essential for examining my own mental processes and understanding my various lapses in reason. Father Lonergan wrote very persuasively about "bias" of various descriptions. Bias can prevent you from grasping what is, especially if "what is" seems intolerably painful or inconvenient. "Group bias", for example, can lead you to your refusing to understand a reality about another group. "Dramatic bias", when you have an unusually violent and apparently irrational psychological reaction to something, may point to some buried trauma. Bias leads what Lonergan calls "the flight from understanding." If we don't want to know something, we refuse to know it.

What is it? It's a photo of me serving a cake. And I look overweight.


Is it so? Well, I weigh over 141 lbs, and according to the Body Mass Index, I'm overweight.
Knowing that, what must I do? I must darn well stop eating so much and start moving more. Otherwise I'm just going to get fatter and risk getting diabetes and cancer and who knows what.

Now, the human race has been made in the image and likeness of God in this way: humanity can reason. That said, your value is determined by your membership in the human race, not by how smart you are. To honour the image and likeness of God in you, you use your reason as best as you are able.

It can be painful. It's painful because the forces of evil want you to be stupid and live a miserable life in a fog of confusion, seeking relief solely in your passions, in mental and bodily pleasures that erode your capacity for reason, until you die in a state of mortal sin and go to hell. And so the forces of evil whisper all kinds of temptations into your ears to turn off your brain, including, "Don't you want to be popular? Don't you want to be loved and admired? Don't you enjoy despising those the people you admire despise? Isn't being one of these superior folk more important than anything else in life?"

It's also painful because it takes effort. It takes humility. It takes loving truth more than you love your self-image as super-smart, or a victim, or whatever else. It takes revising cherished theories when new data comes in, and asking yourself "Is it so? Is it so?"

Lonergan was a Jesuit, and therefore he very likely reviewed his whole day before he went to sleep at night, to look for any flaws in his behaviour and to apologize to God for them. The influence of Saint Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises on Lonergan was huge. It take exercises to be able to stare at reality--especially the reality of yourself--under the bright light of human reason.

The most painful reality to hit Roman Catholics recently is the knowledge that a number of men unfit for priesthood became priests and used the priesthood as an opportunity to sexually assault children or teenagers or (as in Africa) nuns. Many more have used priesthood as a cover for promiscuity: they pose as shining examples of chaste celibacy lived for others by day, and become stealthy figures trolling certain parks or street corners at night.

We didn't want to know, and when we did know, we ran away from the knowledge. Group bias kicked in: "What will the enemies of the Church say?" It sucks when anti-Catholics who have been fantasizing about wicked priests for centuries turn out to have been partly right. As for bishops' fears that priests and laity everywhere would suffer from public knowledge of pedophile, ephebophile, and sexually promiscuous priests.... Well, they were right about that, weren't they?

However, infinitely worse was the fact that children, teenagers, nuns and other vulnerable women were falling victim to these horrible men and that frightened bishops did little, if anything, to help them. And now that we know, we can DO something about it and HAVE done something about it. For adults, knowing is better than NOT knowing.

However, it doesn't stop there. As all kinds of stories hit the press about abuse-and-cover-up in colleges, care homes, schools, mental hospitals, the BBC, we come to grips with two more truths: 1. that children and teenagers are much more vulnerable to sexual abuse by people in "the caring professions" than we ever imagined, 2. that some people want to keep bringing the conversation back to Roman Catholic priests. One comment I read under an online report about the Walt Disney World employees sneered that someone should alert priests to Disney World.

Now that we know that, what do we do?

In terms of our own lives, being rooted in reality spares us from two extremes of thinking about ourselves and our futures: catastrophizing and wishful thinking. These are really two sides of the same coin. Catastrophizing says, "I'm never getting married! I'm ugly! I'm unattractive!" Wishful thinking says, "When that boy I have a crush on sees me in this dress, he's gonna have to notice me!" In both situations, the thinker does not have enough data to make either judgment with intellectual integrity intact.

Incidentally, men do this too although they are quicker to blame others, especially women, just like Adam in Genesis, for their unhappiness. The guy who says, "No woman will ever look at me because I don't have a car" is just as unrooted in reality as the guy who writes in the personal ad that he is interested in meeting a women who is 5'10", 100 lbs. Both of them lack sufficient data about the reality of women. The first guy either really believes women equate car ownership with desirability and/or he wants to believe women who don't notice him are shallow and therefore his inferiors. The second guy doesn't know how much tall women weigh. His priorities are also a tad messed up, of course.

When it comes to Single Life--and any other kind of life, really--the most important reality you must come to grips with is the reality about yourself. This can be hard to see--a priest-professor once opined that people never seem to know what their real sins are--which is why having friends, family, therapy and spiritual directors around to tell you is pretty important. There are also books that are helpful: Edith Stein's writing about women has certainly helped me. Do I want to get married, or do I want something else, is a good question for reflection. Ideally one should start asking this question after Confirmation, i.e. around age fourteen.

What is it? I want to marry some day.

Is it so? Yes. I really enjoy family life, long for kids and really get a kick out of having a man around. I spend some time discerning religious life and discovered living with women, and only women, in community drives me crazy.

Knowing that, what must I do?

A significant number of copies of Seraphic Singles the Book are about to be pulped. Oh woe is me. My publisher doesn't blame me, though, and indeed I don't blame me either, as the book was picked up by two other publishers, and the Polish one did rather well with it, for various reasons, some cultural, and I promoted it on this blog for YEARS. But that said, in my opinion, formed over seven years of blogging, the vast majority of Roman Catholic Singles in Canada and the United States do not want to know how to love the Single life. They want to know how to END their Single life. Seraphic Singles does not explain how to do that. The Rules, which purports to tell readers how to "win the heart of Mr Right", sold millions of copies and spawned many imitators, including the excellent "He's Just Not That Into You." What do women want? A lot--and (usually) marriage, and (very often) family. How to get them? How? How? How, Seraphic, HOW?

Beyond prayer, be rooted in reality, no matter how much it hurts. Human nature does not change, but the times do. The problems do. After the First World War, there were a lot of Single women (including widows) in Scotland because the men their age had been killed. After the Sexual Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because men don't have to marry to get sex and wife-like companionship anymore. After the Divorce Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because men are terrified of divorce, alimony, child support and family court. In Scotland (to name just one country), most divorces are initiated by women. After the Feminist Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because many men and women are quite terrified of each other. Young women are afraid of being raped or otherwise treated like garbage. Men are afraid of losing their money and being alienated from their children. In reaction, women act tough, and men cry online. O brave new world!

Is it so?Now that we know that, what do we do?

Women should learn about men, reserving judgement. Men should learn about women, reserving judgement. The best way to do this is to ask serious questions and to make careful observations because the people you ask will not always know the answers, or will have the wrong answers, or will be afraid to give the answers. It takes guts and humility for a female PhD candidate to admit that at the literal end of the day, she wants a husband and kids to hug. It takes a verbal finesse that most men don't have to explain without offense that as attractive as the idea of caring for a wife and family, you'll be damned if you spend your life as a human cash machine for ingrates who abuse you, belittle you, and make you look bad in front of other men.

Never underestimate the role of other men in how men think about women.

I know a lot more about men now than I did ten years ago. That's for sure. The upside to dating and breaking up, dating and breaking up, is that you learn a lot about men along the way. But I learned more from having male students, and from having colleagues and mentors who were male religious. And then I learned even more from being married and off the market. Men tell me stuff they wouldn't tell me if I were still Single or, I suspect, under 35. And I am much more detached from what they tell me. Most men are not attracted to fat women? Interesting! Why not? Most men in their twenties are not interested in women in their forties? Fair enough! Young men STILL go around rating women from 10 to 1? Bizarre! Why? Is it a male-conforming thing? And at what age do men stop such shenanigans these days?

I'm not surprised that many men are obsessed with money. What surprises me is that I have finally grown sympathetic to their money obsession. It's not that I think money is what women most highly value in men. (Puh-leez!) It's that I am finally taking seriously the fact that many men worry so much about it, especially in the USA. I'm no longer rolling my eyes about it, or feeling hurt about it. I am asking, do some of us feel entitled to men's money some times? Is this indeed a wider problem ? Has something that ought to be a gift freely given from the heart become an unjust social expectation? But more importantly, from the Single female point of view, Has display of reciprocal financial generosity become attractive to men? And if so, what must we do?

I may discuss other things I think men find attractive tomorrow. That way I'll go out with a bang. Seraphic Singles shuts down tomorrow at British midnight.

On the other hand, that's a mighty hypocritical way to to end a blog about Loving the Single Life. Maybe you can tell me in the combox what the last post should be about. It's the last post, after all. THE LAST POST. From now on, you'll have to pay me to write this stuff. ;-)

Lonergan's Four Laws:

1. Be Attentive.
2. Be Intelligent.
3. Be Reasonable.
4. Be Responsible.

Late in life, he added a fifth:

5. Be Loving.

That, unfortunately, was used as an excuse for all kinds of hippy shenanigans.


Stellamaris said...

Oooh, I know!

I think the very hardest and most painful thing I fight as a Single is jealousy. How come there are others leading lives of debauchery and are perfectly happy with them, while I struggle to do the right thing and hate it? How come some of them even manage to find a spouse (partner) and maybe have children, and I don't?

It's a bit difficult to argue suffering leads to sin when it so obviously doesn't in many cases. It appears that plenty of people manage to escape any pain from their sins while I suffer from my attempts at virtue. Any tips on how to handle that in a Christian manner would be very helpful!

Anonymous said...

What would you have planned for your life had you never met BA? What do you think you would you be doing now?

I will miss your blog Seraphic.


Amused said...

Second the motion, Stellamaris!

Seraphic, thank you for writing this blog! It has really been a much-needed reminder to "be rooted in reality"--four words that sum up what I've learned from your wise and witty advice.

I'm going to miss settling down to read the daily post over cup of coffee in the morning--and almost as much as the posts I will
miss the comments--from Pearlmusic and Sciencegirl and Stellamaris and Domestic Diva--oh, boo hoo hoo!

Now I'm going to have to go buy Seraphic Singles the book.

anonymousjustthisoneceplease? said...

I agree that a piece about dealing with jealousy would be great. It often feels like a heavy burden that friends -- some of whom didn't follow Church teachings on sex -- are already married, as years go and I remain single.

fwiw, I found your book wonderful and have recommended it to many others ... there are plenty of books out there about how to get a guy, but yours was the first resource I found for living joyfully -- albeit with hope for marriage in the future -- in the now. really appreciated it.

Nzie said...

So many good things this week! I love the "concentrated advice" - sad the blog is ending but glad it's going out on this stuff. :-)

Thanks again.

JaneL said...

Stellamaris brings up an intriguing question. Let me give an example

I know quite a few women who were ostensibly "good catholics", however they compromised on premarital sex and contraception because they knew their particular guys would be devoted to them regardless of what they did(i.e. did not see them as objects but as persons but sin has been compartmentalized into their lives) and they now live ostensibly happy lives with devoted husbands and kids, albeit closed off from the graces associated with an openness to life. The whole thing seems mightily unfair to the woman who has lived chastely.

Seraphic said...

Thank you for kind words! And it's a great topic. I have been thinking about it all day!

sciencegirl said...

I'll miss your great writing on the single life, but I am excited to see your next project.

I found it funny that you announced the eminent end of this blog the very week I got engaged. It has been a great source of fun and enlightenment for me during my single years, and I'm grateful for all your thoughts over the years.

Whatever your final post, I'm sure it will be good too!

Sheila said...

Oh, yes, envy. Are there any women who *aren't* envious? (If so, I envy them!) I envy my childless friends for their free time, while they envy me my children. Then we both turn around and envy the single people who get to travel the world, and the older people who are richer than us, and just everyone!

I think maybe it's because it is impossible to have it all, and so of course we wish for what we can't have. But also there's the frustration that we DO make lots of sacrifices for our faith, and those don't get paid off in any way we can see.

Seraphic said...

Sciencegirl! You got engaged!?!

Julia said...

Excellent post, Seraphic.

What Stellamris, JaneL and AnonJustThisOnce are talking about is part of the reason why I chucked a hissy yesterday. I deleted my final comment, but the upshot was that engaged couples don't need more of an excuse to justify their non-Magisterium-following ways (such as by reading here that Seraphic thinks that premarital sex between engaged couples is not as bad as premarital sex between other couples.)

To conclude, sincere congratulations to ScienceGirl and her fiancé!

Julia said...

Cindy addressed "Others are Getting Away with Sin" on her blog:

I can't wait to see Seraphic's thoughts too. Sad that we are approaching the final post though.

Kate P said...

Just soaking up everything in your final posts, Seraphic. . . I second what Sinead said, what is the "alternate ending" if Seraphic had remained a Seraphic Single?

Congratulations and best wishes to Sciencegirl & her fiance on their engagement!

Leah said...

Julia-I'm not sure why seem to think that saying A is a less serious sin than B = go ahead and commit A? We're supposed to try to avoid all sin, not just the most serious ones.

Auntie Seraphic's audience (at least from what I've seen) is more likely to say 'OH MY GOSH, we've made a mistake and slept together and now our marriage is going to be ruined forever because we didn't wait until our wedding night', than 'Oh goody, Auntie Seraphic says we can sleep together.'

And frankly, someone in these uber-Catholic/Christian circles needs be saying look, sexual sin is not the end of the world. Seriously. You're a human being, not a chewed on wad of gum. Go to confession and try again. Which is what the Church teaches, not 'OMG, you had premarital sex? Now you're ruined forever and you'll never be happy.'

I think Auntie Seraphic is spot-on, and I find her practical wisdom refreshing and so wonderfully helpful.

Domestic Diva said...

Hooray, sciencegirl! Best wishes to you for a seraphic married life. :)

Auntie, I've been rereading some old posts this week and it was so good to go back and reread the wise advice (and other readers' great input). I know I said it before, but thank you again - a hundred times over - for so many years of generously hosting this blog and sharing with us the lessons you have learned. While I intend to follow you elsewhere, you have made this a very special forum and community. I will miss it.

How - or will - we be able to access this once it closes? I've been rereading old posts, and would truly miss it if I could not refresh myself on your points of wisdom.

Again, my prayers go with you into your new endeavors! May the Lord bless you always for how much you have blessed us.

Seraphic said...

I'll leave it up for awhile. I probably won't shut it down unless I use my material here for another book.

Seraphic said...

I'll leave it up for awhile. I probably won't shut it down unless I use my material here for another book.

Sunnysaffer said...


I too want to express my immense gratitude for all you have done for us singles over the years. I am sooo much more seraphic about being single and than I was when I started reading your blog, many years ago now. I will continue to tell myself "stay rooted in reality" and to say "bless his little heart" to any man I meet.

I have also learnt a great deal from the incredibly wise readers of this blog - so thanks to you all too!

I would love to give you a parting gift to say thanks - would you consider putting your Paypal link back just for a short time?

Oh and I second the suggestion of how to deal with envy. I find I avoid it when I am prepared but it rears its ugly green head when I least expect it.

Julia said...

"Julia-I'm not sure why seem to think that saying A is a less serious sin than B = go ahead and commit A? We're supposed to try to avoid all sin, not just the most serious ones."

Well, Leah, the real is issue is that I'm honestly not convinced that, in this particular case, A is objectively a less serious sin than B, or that it's a different sin than B. Individual culpability may vary, but essentially it's the same objective sin.

"Auntie Seraphic's audience (at least from what I've seen) is more likely to say 'OH MY GOSH, we've made a mistake and slept together and now our marriage is going to be ruined forever because we didn't wait until our wedding night', than 'Oh goody, Auntie Seraphic says we can sleep together.'

And frankly, someone in these uber-Catholic/Christian circles needs be saying look, sexual sin is not the end of the world. Seriously. You're a human being, not a chewed on wad of gum. Go to confession and try again. Which is what the Church teaches, not 'OMG, you had premarital sex? Now you're ruined forever and you'll never be happy.'"

I agree with all of that.

Seraphic said...

Thank you, Sunny! Oh, Lordy. PayPal. Remember passwords and all that is so hard. Maybe I have an Amazon gift list? I most definitely have an Amazon account...

Seraphic said...

Yes, I have looked. I have an AND an one. I think the one is better, in that stuff is more likely to come to my Scottish home than to my parents in Canada! I'm under McLean and I have a wee photo.

St Ignatius forbade the first Jesuits demanding payment for their work, but he was definitely okay with presents.

Sunnysaffer said...


Tried buying from your wish list but I needed your delivery address! Have sent an Amazon gift certificate to your yahoo email instead. Hope you receive it.

MaryJane said...

I agree completely with Leah! There are a lot of ("uber") Catholic circles where sexual sin outweighs and overshadows just about every other sin in the book. Who cares if you are greedy or mean or proud or angry, so long as you aren't living lustfully! It's really out of balance.

Congrats, sciencegirl!

And Seraphic, if you can write up your 'alternative ending' for a different place, I'm sure we'll all flock to read it. Your words of wisdom will be missed over here - I can't count the number of times I now say, "bless his heart" and remind myself that I must contend with reality itself rather than a figment of my own imagination. Thank you for sharing your time and talent with us (without any 'treasure' as a reward!) over the years.

Seraphic said...

Dear Sunny! What a generous gift! Yes, I got it. Thank you very much. I will probably buy books with it! In fact, I have my eye on a big Polish dictionary.

Meg said...

In response to Stellamaris's comment; yes I can totally identify with jealousy, it's hard for me to stomach those narcissistic FB posts that essentially scream "look at me and my full life" knowing full well that these people in no way ascribe to Catholic sexual morality.
In my own expereince, however, I've seen that some of these people--who, say, buy a house with their boyfriend--encounter nightmarish financial/psychological train wrecks when the relationship fails.
And I would not trade places even with those people who've 'broken the rules' and seem to live full, stable lives--particularly regarding contraception--since such a lifestyle really will place a person's soul in jeopardy; "for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he should suffer the loss of his soul."
That being said, it takes a LOT of detachment to truly have peace of mind regarding my single state. For example I have a mother who a) thinks that living in sin is white-trash, b) disagrees with contraception, and c) thinks that a woman is a pitiable nobody who hasn't been married by the age of 25. It's nearly inconceivable, given the state of the culture, that I could really have achieved (c) without committing (a) or (b). And she represents only ONE of the unbelievable attitudes I've encountered regarding sex/marriage/single women from priests, parishoners, and 'well-meaning' relatives.
Fortunately, I've discovered Jesus not to be so insular as the average Catholic, which is how I continue to justify being at Church.
Well there's my 2 cents.
Really enjoy your blog, Dorothy. Funny to have just discovered it during your last week! Have enjoyed reading back through the posts!